Articles and Translations

Ibn al-‘Arabī’s Book of the Fabulous Gryphon (‘Anqā’ Mughrib)

Gerald Elmore

Gerald T. Elmore, received his Ph.D. in Arabic-Islamic Studies at Yale University. Islamic Sainthood in the Fullness of Time: Ibn al-'Arabi's Book of the Fabulous Gryphon, his meticulous translation of the 'Anqā' mughrib, was published by Brill in 1998.


Articles by Gerald Elmore

Ibn Arabi’s “Book of the Fabulous Gryphon” (Anqa Mughrib)

Ibn Arabi’s Testament on the Mantle of Initiation (al-Khirqah) (PDF)

Four Texts of Ibn Arabi on the Creative Self-Manifestation of the Divine Names (PDF)

The Alchemical Marriage of Intellect and Soul

A Selection of Texts on the Theme of Praise from some Gnomic Works by Ibn Arabi


The K. ‘Anqā’ mughrib (The Book of the Fabulous Gryphon) represents a major literary and doctrinal effort of Ibn al-‘Arabī’s early period of writing in the Maghrib, around the turn of the seventh/13th century.[1] A relatively long discursive work composed entirely in rhymed prose (saj’), the ‘Anqā’ is replete with subtle allusions and evocative symbolism, employing dark conundrums and even cryptography to reveal/re-veil profoundly far-reaching speculations on the mirific nature of Islamic sainthood (walāyah), or ‘friendship with God’. The book constitutes, in effect, the foundation-manifesto of Ibn al-‘Arabī’s revolutionary doctrine of walāyah as epitomized in the old (but ‘underground’) Sufi notion of the Seal of the saints (khatm al-awliyā’).[2] In the present article I will give translations of five key sections from The Fabulous Gryphon, treating of the axiomatic concept of Man as microcosm – the summa of all descriptive reality and, in his mystic apotheosis as sainthood’s Seal of authority, the final arbiter of prescriptive truth.

Of the principal extant works of Ibn al-‘Arabī, the ‘Anqā’ mughrib is one of the half-dozen or so earliest.[3] Moreover, by the accident of manuscript remains it would appear to be the oldest materially-attested text of any book by the Shaykh.[4] Not generally counted among his best-known titles (especially in the West), the ‘Anqā’ was yet a considerable literary accomplishment for its relatively young author,[5] and, of all the writings of Ibn al-‘Arabī, it remains the primary (though not the definitive) statement of his teachings on the khatm al-awliyā’.[6] A characteristic of this earliest presentation of the Seal persona is its partial conflation with the traditional imagery of the Islamic deliverer, the rightly-guided Mahdī – envisaged as the apocalyptic ‘Sun rising in the West,’ like the legendary Gryphon itself – as we will see in some of the material presented here. In our concluding section the figures of the Khatm, the Mahdī and the Siddīq will be formally differentiated and ranked – but, again, in a novel order which points to the paramount role envisioned by Ibn al-‘Arabī for the Sufi awliyā’ as apart from the normative authorities of the Muslim community, the ‘ulamā’ (religious scholars), who otherwise assumed the office of custodians of ex post facto prophecy.

Osman Yahia described The Fabulous Gryphon in his Histoire et classification de l’oeuvre d’Ibn ‘Arabî as “a treatise on the Universal Seal of the saints and the Seal of the saints of the Muslim community,” adding that

Ibn al-‘Arabī specifies in this work that the Universal Seal of the saints is the Christ [= al-Masāh, Jesus son of Mary]…, but passes over in silence the question of the identity of the Seal of the Muslim community. In the Futūhāt al-makkāyah, however, he reveals that the Muhammadan Seal of the saints is none other than he himself.[7] The work is also a treatise on the relation of man as microcosm to the universe…. According to Ibn al-‘Arabī himself, the ‘Anqā’ mughrib was written after his Tadbirāt al-ilāhiyah,[8] which also dealt with the human being as synthetically summing up the universe.[9]

The observation concerning the microcosm (al-‘ālam al-asghar) derives from the preliminary descriptions of the ‘Anqā’ made by such early bibliographers as Flügel, Ahlwardt and Brockelmann, which, in turn, were informed by an examination of the opening pages of the book only. Whereas the Tadbirāt al-ilāhiyah (The Divine Directions) and other works of Ibn al-‘Arabī were, indeed, based on the ancient, Hellenized notion of the microcosmos as already articulated in the encyclopaedic Rasā’il of the ‘Brethren of Purity’ (Ikhwān al-Safā’), the idea is not consistently pursued in the ‘Anqā’, although it does figure prominently here and there in the very structure of the book.

For our first selection let us take the prologue to the ‘Anqā’, which follows a long introductory poem. This section is important because, besides discussing the microcosm, the author here speaks at length of the relation between the ‘Anqā’ and the Tadbirāt. From the first chapter of the latter we learn that that book was composed in four days in Morón (Mawrūr),[10] a small town near Seville, at the home of one Abu Muhammad ‘Abd Allah b. al-Ustadh al-Mawrūrī,[11] who had been a disciple of Shaykh Abu Madyan and of Ibn Saydabun. It was he who introduced Ibn al-‘Arabī to the popular medieval wisdom miscellany, Secretum secretorum (Sirr al-asrār) – falsely ascribed to Aristotle, who supposedly compiled it for his princely pupil, Alexander the Great (Dhu l-Qarnayn) – requesting that the younger man compare the worldly politics of the Greek philosopher with the Islamic teachings on the true perfection of the human estate, or microcosm, in the Everlasting.[12] In the following section we learn that the ‘Anqā’ was intended as a kind of sequel to the Tadbirāt, in which Ibn al-‘Arabī would undertake to treat more forthrightly of the spiritual caliphate of man and his teleological station of the saintly Seal. This time, however, the Shaykh wished to emphasize the radically ‘spiritual-human’ nature of all that he wrote – that is, its quintessentially Sūfi character, as opposed to the more mundane intellectual speculations of the philosophers and theologians. [Except for the three paragraphs in brackets, the remainder of the article is in Ibn al-‘Arabī’s own words.]



The Purposee of the Book[13]

We have already authored a certain spiritual work, a Lordly composition, entitled The Divine Directions concerning the Reformation of the Human Kingdom (Al-Tadbirāt al-ilāhiyah fi islāh al-mamlakah al-insāniyah), in which we discussed how Man is a Microcosm (‘ālam saghīr) drawn forth from the Macrocosm (al-‘ālam al-kabīr), inasmuch as all that appears in the Greater Existence (al-kawn al-akbar) is to be found, also, in this Lesser Essence (al-‘ayn al-asghar).[14] But in that book I did not treat comprehensively of Man’s correspondence with the Universe, but, rather, I focused particularly on what correlates in him as regards the mundane Caliphate (al-khilāfah)[15] and strictly ‘political’ organisation (al-tadbir), treating of such questions as: What is the microcosmic counterpart of the State Secretary (al-kātib), the Prime Minister (al-wazīr), the Chief Justice (al-qādī), the Superintendents (al-umanā’), provincial Administrators in charge of alms-taxes, and Emissaries (al-sufarā’)?[16] In that book I explained, also, the reason for which war is waged between the Intellect (al-‘aql) and Passion (al-hawā),[17] and I set forth therein the nature of the confrontation of adversaries and when the battle between them takes place.[18] And I helped the Intellect to a consolidating victory, bringing him forth as an effective Commander, while causing Kingship (al-mulk) to arise in my account, appointing life for some in its world and perdition for others. Thus, the object was accomplished, and “he who had a sickness in his heart”[19] came to believe.

I had intended to provide in The Divine Directions that which would be declared openly sometimes and kept concealed at other times – to wit: Where in this Human Copy (al-nuskhah al-insānīyah) and Spiritual Uprising (al-nash’ah al-ruhānīyah)[20] is the station of the Rightly-guided Leader (al-imām al-mahdī) who is related to the House of the Prophet both in terms of spiritual degree and physically?[21] And where, similarly, in the same scheme is the station of the Seal of the Saints (khatm al-awliyā’) and the Signet of the sincere Friends (tābi’ al-asfiyā’)? [22] since the need for knowledge of these two Stations in Man is more imperative than that of all of the other correspondences of created entities. But I feared the insinuation of the Enemy, Satan, and that he would call out in the presence of the Sultan, alleging against me what I had not intended, so that, on account of him, I would be brought to the house of slander. Thus, I shielded the ‘King’ (al-shāh) with the ‘Queen’ (al-firzān) by way of safeguarding this mortal frame (al-juthmān)![23]

Then I beheld the Divine Secrets bestowed by the Real, and I took upon myself the responsibility of presenting them to the world. So I wrote this book, The Fabulous Gryphon, dedicated to the Gnosis of these two Stations of the Mahdī and the Seal. But whenever I discourse on such recondite matters as this, I speak in terms of the Two Worlds, the Macrocosm and the Microcosm, in order to clarify the issue for the listener by referring to the Greater, external World which he knows and comprehends, after which I draw comparisons between that outer World and its inner Secret deposited in Man – who yet denies and does not comprehend it. For my purpose in everything of this type which I write is never the Gnosis of that which appears in phenomenal existence (al-kawn), but rather it is ever the Gnosis of that which is found in this Human Essence (al-‘ayn al-insāni) and Adamite Substance (al-shakhs al-Adamī).

So verify your speculation, O rational one! and pay attention, you who are unmindful! Shall the existence/world (kawn) of the Sultan – whether he be just or despotic, learned or bewildered – profit me aught in the Hereafter? No, indeed, my brother! not unless I envisage that Authority as proceeding from me and to me;[24] and not until I make my Intellect an imām unto me, seeking to learn of him the ways of right comportment according to the rules of the Law (al-ādāb al-shar’īyah) in my inner and my outer being (bātin-ī wa-zāhir-ī), and pledging allegiance to him (ubāyi’u-hu) for the reforming of my whole Self, first and last (islāh awwāl-ī wa-ākhir-ī). Whenever I do not make this my contemplation, I perish.[25] But when I turn away from being occupied with people, I am able to effect my own Salvation and I become a ‘King’. For the Prophet Muhammad (May God bless and keep him!) has declared, addressing all of his community:

Each of you is a Shepherd, and each of you is responsible for his flock.[26]

Thus, the Prophet established the imāmate for every human being in himself, making him one who is to be Sought (matlūb bi-l-haqq), both in the World of his transcendent being (ghaybu-hu) and of his sensual (hissu-hu). Now if the matter is thus and the fulfilment of the Contract of the imāmate is incumbent upon us, then what is wrong with us that we are remiss in the way of our Salvation, and are content with the inferior ranks? How is it that one who claims to be rational (‘āqil) yet shuns these high sanctuaries (al-ma’āqil)?

[So whenever I mention in this or any of my other books an instance of a phenomenal event, my purpose is to fix it in the hearing of the listener and compare it with its likeness in Mankind. Then let us turn our contemplation therein to our own Human Essence, which is the Way of our Salvation! I tread that Way in its entirety at this Human level (al-nash’ah al-insānīyah) in accordance with whatever the Station confers – whether of corporeality or spirituality. Kind brother, do not suppose that my purpose in any of my books is ever to discourse on things extraneous to my own Essence, not perceiving in this that I am thereby really treating of the Way of my Salvation!

[Be Your Own Ruler]

What do I care if my own Soul[27] saves me
by means of one who triumphs or perishes?
Look to the Kingdom closest to you: You will find
in each person a Regent over all his parts.
Weigh him as to Holy Law with justice at all times,
and walk in it behind him wheresoever he may go.[28]
And do not be a rebel Devil striving for scandal
in the Kingdom of your Self, but be therein an Angel!

Then let the Friend (walī) of this book meditate! For indeed, I shall speak of the matter of the Macrocosm, treating it as the outer ‘Shell’ (al-qishr), and making that which in Man corresponds to it as the inner ‘Core’ (al-lubāb) for the reason which I have mentioned – to throw light on That of which the listener is ignorant by means of the thing which he knows and comprehends.[29] Were his understanding capable of arriving at this Secret without my having to make mention of it, I would not have regarded its external aspect at all, nor even paused for a moment over its inner Meaning. However, I shall present the Secret to you in the form of a proximate example and an exercise for improvement – which, God willing, I will do in this present treatise of ‘Pearls hidden in sea-shells’ (la’ālī l-asdāf) and the ‘Arisings of the Heights’ (nawāshī l-a’rāf), which are Models set up by the Real for the sake of the Believers and the Gnostics – as a pearl-diver’s catch, a seeker’s rarity, a precept for the sensible, or a lover’s caress.

[After another preambulatory section dealing with the pilgrimage (hajj), we are now introduced to what is, in a sense, the main character of the book in his most generic form of the Messenger of revelation/inspiration (rasūl al-wahy/al-ilhām), Gabriel, the angelic ‘holy spirit’, who appears on the horizon of the author’s mind as the dawning light of creative consciousness. Yet another digression intervenes (involving an obscure interlocutor from Tabriz) before the trustworthy Inspirator returns, this time in the guise of a hoopoe (the bird which brought wise Solomon intelligence of Sheba) – or, in the event, in the modes of the three successive celestial idols (star, moon and sun) in the Qur’ānic parable of Abraham and the luminaries. Through intimate experience over time Ibn al-‘Arabī came to realize that the ubiquitous Light-figure, “the Greater Sun”, was none other than the Seal of the saints. Although the last paragraph of the first section translated below specifies that the reference is to the particular, Muhammadan Imām (not the universal one), in the chapter following, where the Seal is assimilated to paradisiacal Wine/Water, this same archetypal figure clearly appears as the “Western Sun” (= the Mahdī) and as Jesus, the Universal Seal. The complex ‘inter-identification’ of all these symbolic personae may perhaps be understood in terms of Ibn al-‘Arabī’s own description of his special relation to Jesus in the prologue to the Futūhāt (depicting a solemn hieratic scene evidently identical to the one in the second chapter, below), where he presents himself as the ‘counterpart’, ‘son’ and ‘bosom friend’ of the Seal.][30]



Among the forms of him who saluted me from his horizon,[32] manifesting unto me a part of his nature, were, firstly, a Setting Star in the robe of Love; after which his Moon rose up in the garb of illuminative Guidance, for every Luminary bestows its reality and clarifies for us its way. Then these both were followed by the Greater Sun[33] and the Most-resplendent Light, which dispelled the darknesses, illuminated the celestial chambers and eliminated troubles – this being the ‘Exemplary Self-manifestation’ (al-tajallī l-mithālī) and ‘Light Sent-forth’ (al-nūr al-irsālī). [That Light-figure] saluted me, then set in the Occident of the Unseen (maghrib al-mu’ammā) until the advent of the appointed Time (al-ajal al-musammā).[34] When the Time is imminent, drawing near, he will rise as a Guide (hādin) from the place in which he had set. This, then, is the Sun of Guidance (shams al-tawjīh) and the Station of Transcendence (maqām al-tanzīh), with the setting of which polytheism (al-ishrāk) shall cease[35] and the covenants of false-Associates with God (‘uqad al-ashrāk) will dissolve, so that their prey gets away, their ruse being lifted.

This Setting, in its entirety, is in two parts for him who has two eyes to see: Although it takes place in [the Walī‘s]heart, yet it is by a Light from his Lord in the world of his transcendent Being (ghaybu-hu), the Light of His Nearness (qurbu-hu) remaining with him:[36]

And there shall be for him “Light upon light”[37] and Joy accruing to joy…

And if the Most-luminous Place becomes ‘dark’ at the setting of the lesser luminaries of the false-Associates, denuded of the attributes of their dwelling-place, that is because it was plunged in the Ocean of the Holiest Essence, stripped of the garments of their essential attributes. So, contemplate this sublime Secret – how marvellous it is; and this delectable Taste – how sweet it is! I remained with this Solar Light in his Most-holy Station, conversing intimately with him for years, and moonlit nights, and ages.

Now God has already made manifest to us the Sign (al-‘alāmah) that he [viz., the Solar-figure][38] was the Seal of the imāmate (khātam al-imāmah) – that is to say, the Particular Muhammadan imāmate, not the Universal, General imāmate.[39] Therefore, he who has understood, may he know! and he who is ignorant, let him knock on the door and persist in that as long as this Light endures on his horizon, before he sets in his Truth. But I have fully verified his properties, and came to know what Secrets the Real had placed in his keeping…


… Until the year, Ninety-five and half of a Day [= 595/1198-99],[41] when the gloom of clouds was dispelled from the sun as I was in my spiritual condition (hālat-i) upon [the previously-described] Return (rujū’) to the world of perception, with my established Sign and my Knowledge concealed in the undergarments of Light. But this choice Wine [viz., the Seal of the Saints] was sealed with musk and blended with Water from the celestial fountain, Tasnīm, because he is the Follower of a true Leader and the Auditor of One whose word is to be heeded. The Signal to descend from Heaven will come to him at the end of time, and with him will be the Threat and the Promise.

Now when three months of the above-mentioned year had gone by,[42] and when, upon my withdrawing apart to this Western Sun (al-shams al-maghribīyah) and my making over my affair to him in the ‘Yathribite Assembly’ (al-‘isabāh al-Yathribīyah)[43] – the Seal receiving me with his purest Wine, the heavenly Water clarifying for me the blend of his Way[44] – I then beheld the Seal of the Saints of God, the Real,[45] in the Seat of the Comprehensive imāmate and Truth. He showed me the Secret of his lineage, and I was commanded to kiss his hand. And I saw him descend upon the ‘Faithful one’ (al-Siddīq) [46]and the ‘Discriminator’ (al-Fāruq) [viz., Abu Bakr al-Siddīq and ‘Umar b. al-Khattāb, the first and second Caliphs] and approach the ‘Truthful and Trustworthy one’ (al-sādiq al-masdūq) [viz., ‘Alī b. Abū Tālib, the third Caliph?],[47] standing parallel to him, next to his ear. The latter listened intently to receive information, the Banner of the Seal’s Precedence unfurled, and his two Seals were “Light upon Light.”[48] In that Station of Comprehensiveness pre-eminence is his, while others in that regard are “like the wearer of two garments of falsehood.”[49] And I noticed that the Noble Sun (al-shams al-baytīyah)[50] had kissed [the Seal’s] hand even as I had, [so I asked the latter concerning the former] and the Seal declared to me: “He is of my People.”

Thereupon he discoursed with me, and we sang the praises of the ancient and the modern,[51] the cup-bearer pouring out the vintage wine, beginning with the ‘Pillar of the Throne of the imāmate’ [viz., the Seal]. Meanwhile, he leaned upon me like one intoxicated and dallied with me like one fallen madly in love, imploring: “Restore me in the Robe of Secrecy, for, verily, I am the Seal: There will be no Saint after me and no one to bear my Covenant. Without me states will pass away, and those of the Latter days shall be connected to the First”:[52]

Of what I mentioned not, it was what it was
So, presume the best, and do not ask about it![53]

When hearts exchanged their Secrets confidentially and the suns of the transcendent Mysteries rose in the Heaven of its lights – our Session together reaching its term and Abū l-‘Abbās and his Companion [viz., al-Khadir and Moses?][54] entering upon it – I departed to verify the Truth of what I knew, and there was no exquisite coup de Maître except it was received or issued at my gate. And were it not for the vow of jealous Protection of the sacred Secret taken, and the fact that disclosure would be a violation thereof, we would surely reveal the Seal of Sainthood to you in his outward and his inward form. But I shall, indeed, represent him for you behind the veil of his finery, for he who dares and raises [the Secret’s] veil, sees [the veil’s] Secret.[55] – And so shall I do with the Sun of our West [viz., the Mahdī], revealing him to you from beyond our heart in the seclusion of our Transcendence.[56]

He of Divine Revelation and firm Resolution [viz., the Angel Gabriel] burdened my heart until the Sun of my Lord was seen therein.[57] But one who rides the swift steed of divulgement is sought and overtaken, while he who gets down from its back to the more docile riding-mount of secrecy is saved and delivered. That is, unless one does as I shall – and as has been done before me – with surreptitiousness of symbol, and by wrapping meaning in enigma and riddle.

[In the next chapter the Messenger of inspiration (Gabriel) is followed by a ‘wind in the trees’ – that is, a prophetic dream (mubashshirah) in which the Shaykh was inspired to write the present work. He was not quite satisfied with the title of the book in the dream, however, so he sought counsel with the Angel, who, upon consultation with higher authorities, proposed another one. Rejecting that, also (much to Gabriel’s chagrin), Ibn al-‘Arabī only later came up with the felicitous phrase ultimately chosen to denominate the book. The final paragraph, I think, is one of the most telling of all for revealing the real meaning of the Master’s teachings: You are yourself the Rightly-guided one and the Seal of your destiny. Realize that and you will be the Savior of your own time, making your contemporaries the equals of the blessed companions of the Prophet.]


In the month of the Prophet Muhammad’s birth[59] (Peace be upon him!) God (Praised be He!) sent unto me the Messenger of Inspiration (rasūl al-ilhām) – that being Revelation (al-wahy) which He kept in our possession, and the Message (al-khitāb) which He granted to us thereby. Then He caused that Messenger to be followed by a spreading Herald-wind (mubashshirah)[60] in a lush garden, which commanded me therein to write down this concealed Book and well-guarded Secret deposited, entitling it for me:

The Book of Unveiling and Concealing
concerning the Gnosis of the Caliph and the Seal.

Not entirely satisfied, I consulted the Angel[62] concerning this indication (al-‘alāmah), and he said to me, “Young man, be patient – I will verify the matter.” Thereafter he returned to me and did not depart, but prepared the most-hallowed Place and alighted, and the ‘Presence’ (al-hadrah) declared: “I have definitely entitled it:

The Book of the Lote-Tree of the Furthest Boundary
and the Secret of the Prophets concerning
the Gnosis of the Caliph and the Seal of the Saints.”[63]

At this I said to him: “Indeed, I do not find in myself an expression (nuktah) for this impression (al-simah), so do not compel me or lay me under a spell unawares!” – at which he declared: “I am shamed by your rejection.” But I replied: “My Lord it is Who gives both death and life!”[64]

Then, on Friday, while the Preacher (al-khatīb) was in full swing,[65] summoning the hearts of the Saints of God and His Servants to God, I obtained the Mantle of ‘Suspending attraction (burd kaff al-jadhb) away from the Presence of Proximity (hadrat al-qurb)‘,[66] and the precisely suitable words unexpectedly occurred to me, the promptings of the heart actively abounding because of what the Impressions brought to it.[67] Thus, the Most-precious Sermon is from the Holiest Station. “O astounding Preacher (al-khatāb al-mughrib) and amazing Critic (al-muntaqid al-mu’jib),” I exclaimed, “will you be content with this title? –

The Fabulous Gryphon concerning the Gnosis
of the Seal of the Saints and the Sun Rising in the West,[68]
and the Allegory of the Secret of the Boundary (al-shafā)
in the Century Following That of the Chosen One (al-Mustafá).”[69]

All of these symbolic expressions (al-ishdrāt) refer to the Lesser Copy (al-nuskhah al-sughrá) [viz., Man as microcosm], not the Greater Copy (al-nuskhah al-kubrá) [the macrocosm]. As I explained to you earlier, there is no benefit in the knowledge of that which is external to your own Self unless the way of your Salvation is dependent thereupon. For the Sun of the West (shams al-maghrib) is that which ascends of the Lights of Intellections in the World of your Transcendence and that which manifests itself (tajallā) of the Secrets of Particularization and Generalization to your heart,[70] just as the Seal of Sainthood is that by which your Station is sealed in the ‘Furthest Boundary’ of your term of duration.[71] Similarly, if you act in your own time and among your own brethren as those who went before among the Companions of the Prophet (May God bless and keep him!)[72] as regards sublime Practice (al-‘amal al-sanī) and exalted Self-manifestation (al-tajallī ‘alī), then your time will surely be joined with theirs, and you will truly become one of their peers!

[Our final section throws light on the involved issue of the formal relation between the hierarchic grades of the Mahdī and the Seal, along with a third personage, the Siddīq, or ‘Faithful One’ – not to mention the type of the ‘Angel’. Whereas for Abū Hamīd al-Ghazzālī (d. 505/1111) the rank of siddīqīyah, personified in Abu Bakr al-Siddīq, the very embodiment of the true successor to the Prophet, was the highest degree that any saint could reach after Muhammad,[73] higher even than that of the expected Mahdī (with its suspectable ‘imāmite’ associations), Ibn al-‘Arabī posited yet another walāyah-rank beyond that – namely, the Station of Proximity (maqām al-qurbah), or ‘General/Absolute Prophecy’, which characterized the lofty status of the Seal and other such peerless individuals (afrād).[74] Little wonder that ‘orthodox’ (= ordinary-minded) Sunnites viewed this move as an insidious reassertion of the ‘Divine right’ claim of the Shī’ites for their Imām.[75] What the latter lost in the subordination of the noble mahdī to the Siddīq was gained again (but without the physical ‘Alid pedigree, which would have been a nuisance to the Sufis, anyway) with the raising up of the new saintly Seal.]


When that of which I have been speaking was fully determined and that about which I have written accrued to me, the Messenger of Inspiration addressed me: “O Muhammad,[77] have you discerned this Intimation concerning the delay of the Wazīrate (ta’akhkhur al-wizārah)[78] [viz., the mission of the Mahdī?] until after his appointment by the Commander (al-amīr) [the Siddīq?][79] at the time of the Amirate (al-imārah)?[80]

Were it not for the Caliphate of the true Friend (khilāfat al-sadīq), the people would have turned aside from the Path[81] because of the absence of the ongoing process of Revelation and because of the Gnosis of God’s Turning-away [the evildoer]’ (ma’rifat al-sarf).[82] But can there be a Caliphate except after the determination of the One who appoints the Caliph (thubūt al-mustakhlif)?[83] For this reason the sophistic disputant has his doubts. But say to him, Muhammad: ‘O Man, how wrong you are! All that is required for his existence – it is as though it already is, and he does exist! And yet he is not existent in this World of change and affliction, but rather has Wisdom held him back, harboring him for a Secret[84] – that Secret which will
be made manifest in its proper season, at the coming of its destined time.'”[85]

The Sun of the West [viz., the mahdī] ranks below the Station of the ‘Faithful One’ (rutbat al-siddīq) – but keep that a secret! – even as the Faithful and, therefore, he who is below him, is under the Banner of the Seal [of the Saints] (liwā’ al-khatm).[86] That is to say that the Lights of the Transcendent Mysteries shining in the hearts, which we alluded to earlier, might still be attained unto by one who is not a Greater ‘Faithful-One’ (siddīq akbar) and who has not achieved that most-important Station. Indeed, even one utterly deluded, duped and deceived can attain unto them – the Secret of this being in God’s saying (Be He Exalted!): “We shall lure them step by step from whence they know not”[87] – whereas the Station of Supreme Faithfulness (al-siddīqīyah) is attained only by the People of Sainthood (ahl al-walāyah) and he to whom it is foreordained by God from Pre-eternity. For Faithfulness is the Way of Salvation for one who possesses it and proceeds according to its way.

This, then, is the reason we made the Western Sun to be beneath the Faithful One and dependent upon him, even as the Seal is above the Station of the Faithful: The Mahdī is the one who paves the way (al-mumahhid li-l-tarīq) upon which a Noble One (‘atīq)[88] will walk. But the Seal is Prophetary in origin (nabawī al-mahtid), Heavenly in appearance (‘alawī al-mashhad). Therefore, we have placed him above the Station of Faithfulness (al-sidq), even as the Real had placed him. For he who takes his light from the Lamp of Prophecy (mishādt al-nubūwah)[89] is greater than one who takes it from the Lamp of Faithfulness (mishkāt al-siddīqīyah) – the relationship between the Follower (al-tābi’) and the Companion (al-sāhib) being as that of one who is present (al-shāhid) to one who is absent (al-ghā’ib).

When it was established that the Seal would be the Head of the Community (muqaddam al-jamā’ah) on the Day of the coming of the Hour (qiyām al-sā’ah), it was determined that he would have two Congregations,[90] being Master of the Two Seals. But whereas the ‘Winged One’ (dhū l-ajnihah) [viz., the Angel Gabriel] will share with the Seal the task of gathering the two Congregations,[91] the Seal is alone in charge of his two Signet-seals. The ‘Winged One’ in Man is he in whom spirituality (al-rūhanīyah) predominates and who is devoted to the purification of his soul by virtue of the Angelic Station (al-rutbah al-malakīyah). Incontestably, in our view, as regards this Station there is no putting off its power.

According to the degree of his ascent in that Station, an Angel (sāhib al-ajnihah) may have two, three or four wings.[92] However, the Most trustworthy of Spirits[93] will have in that Station six-hundred wings[94] – with no objection and no sin (junāh) therein.[95] We, however, have called him a ‘Seal’ (khātim),[96] and placed him as an authority (hākim) over the Saints, because on the Day of Resurrection he will come with an ‘Allegorical-Material’ Seal (khātam mithālī jusmānī) in his right hand – the locus of the Most-sublime Ruler (al-malik al-asná) – and a ‘Revelatory-Spiritual’ Seal (khātam nizālī rūhānī) in his left hand – the locus of the Noblest imām (al-imām al-asrá).[97] For his authority was propagated on the right-hand in the host of the people of Appointment (ahl al-ta’yīn), while on the left it spread with the people of Empowerment (ahl al-tamkīn)[98]the Seal being characterized by two Sciences (‘ilmān) and addressed by two Names (ismān).[99] For he has leadership from the Beginning (al-tara”us fī l-hāfirah) and precedence in the Sainthood of the Hereafter (walāyat al-akhīrah). So, understand, O Intelligent one, these secrets, and strive for the radiance of these lights!


Reprinted from the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, Vol. XXV, 1999.


[1] It was probably written in Andalusia (perhaps in Almeria) in 596/ 1200, when Ibn al-‘Arabī was thirty-six years old. I have dealt with this and other issues in my study/translation of the ‘Anqā’ mughrib, entitled Islamic Sainthood in the Fullness of Time (Leiden, 1999), from which the translated passages in the present article have been excerpted (and simplified, but not abridged). (I am grateful to E. J. Brill Publishers, Leiden, for permission to reprint the selections from my translation of the ‘Anqā’.)

[2] The latter expression was apparently first used by the 3rd/9th- century Suff theorist, al-Hakīm al-Tirmidhī, ‘the Sage of Tirmidh’ (in what is now Uzbekistan, near the Afghan border). His K. Khatm al-awliyā’ has been edited by O. Yahia (Beirut, 1965) and, under the title, Sīrat al-awliyā’, more recently by B. Radtke in Drei Schriften des Theosophen von Tirmidh (Stuttgart, 1992).

[3] The chronology of Ibn al-‘Arabī’s earliest writings is still largely undetermined – the few express indications that we have are often contradictory, due to some of the books in question having been revised – and a great deal of patient, critical study and comparison of many texts will be required before we may begin to confidently put most of the pieces in some order. A tentative prospectus of works that antedate the ‘Anqā’ (but some only in their first drafts) would include the Inshā’ al-dawā’ir, Al-Tadbīrāt al-ilāhīyah, Kashf al-ma’ná, K. al-Isrā’, Mashāhid al-asrār al-qudsīyah and Mawāqi’ al-nujūm.

[4] To date I am not aware of any manuscript of a work by Ibn al-‘Arabī (or any other Sufi) that was actually copied in the Maghrib before MS Berlin 3266 (the primary text of the ‘Anqā’), which was transcribed in 597/1201 in Fez.

[5] It is worth noting that, apart from the well-known masterpieces such as the Fusūs al-hikam and Al-Futūhāt al-makkīyah, the ‘Anqā’ has been commented upon by Arab writers more times than almost any of Ibn al- ‘Arabī’s other books (judging from the number of listings in Yahia’s repertoire general). Close seconds would be the Mashāhid and the Mawāqi’.

[6] The doctrine was later developed in the Futūhāt and elsewhere, and brought to final fruition in the Fusūs.

[7] Yahia cites Futūhāt (Cairo, 1911), vol. II, p. 49, as a prooftext; but while that passage does not actually indicate that Ibn al-‘Arabī was the Muhammadan Seal, the claim is made in ibid., vol. I, p. 244 (l. 25).

[8] Edited by H. S. Nyberg in his Kleinere Schriften des Ibn al-‘Arabī (Leiden, 1919), pp. 103-240.

[9] Op. cit. (Damascus, 1964), pp. 157-8 (no. 30).

[10] The Tadbīrāt and the ‘Anqā’ are roughly of the same length (over 75 printed octavo pages). That the former was written in only four days (we do not know the actual date of composition) may seem incredible, but it must be kept in mind that the book in its present form has undergone later reworking.

[11] For references to al-Mawrūrī (whose full name is given in the corresponding passage from the Fihrist, cited in the next note), see C. Addas, Quest for the Red Sulphur (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 130-1.

[12] See Al-Tadbīrāt, pp. 120-1. According to Ibn al-‘Arabī in his Fihrist al-mu’allafat, the Tadbīrāt was modeled on (pseudo-) Aristotle’s work: "I followed therein the example of Aristu in The Book of the Secret of secrets, which he wrote for Iskandar" (A. E. Affifi, ed., "The Works of Ibn ‘Arabī in the Light of a Memorandum Drawn Up by Him," Bulletin of the Faculty of Arts, Alexandria University, 8 [1954], p. 198). For Ibn al-‘Arabī’s very negative reaction to a passage in the Madīnah al-fādilah (The Ideal City) of the Islamic philosopher, al-Fārābī (d. 339/950), see Futūhāt, III, 178 (11-4).

[13] The tabyīn al-gharad, on pp. 5-7 of the (uncritical) 1954 Cairo edn. of the ‘Anqā’.

[14] "Greater" and "lesser" here signify, of course, macro- and micro-, in the sense of ‘extended’ and ‘intended’, or even ‘external, sensual’ and ‘internal, supersensual’. "Essence", similarly, is the spiritual antithesis of physical "existence" in the present usage.

[15] For Ibn al-‘Arabī’s treatment of this matter in the Tadbīrāt, see pp. 120-31 and 143-52 of Kleinere Schriften.

[16] On each of these offices, see ibid., pp. 176-9seq., 157-61, 156-7, 185-6 and 189seq.; and cf. pp. 189seq., dealing with al-sufarā’ wa-l-rusul.

[17] See ibid., pp. 138seq. and 199. AI-Hakīm al-Tirmidhīwrote on this typically ‘Gnostic’ theme (e.g., in his K. al-‘Aql wa-l-hawā). For an analysis of the general subject as it occurs in the teachings of another early Eastern Sufi, Sahl al-Tustarī, see G. Bowering, The Mystical Vision of Existence in Classical Islam (New York, 1980), pp. 241-61.

[18] See Tadbīrāt, pp. 194-8.

[19] Q. 33: 32. The expression occurs frequently in the Qur’ān, but usually in the plural (as in 2:10).

[20] Cf. Q. 56: 62. Nash’ah is a favorite term of Ibn al-‘Arabī for the human ‘form’ in the sense of a development, or ‘evolution’, understood both naturally and spiritually, in the sense of either emanationism or creation. The word can be rendered in many ways, but here the nuskhah and the nash’ah suggest the metaphysical and the phenomenological aspects of man.

[21] Al-mansūb ilá bayt al-nabī al-maqāmī wa-l-tīnī. The adjectives modify bayt but denote two kinds of relation (nisbah) to the Prophet – by spiritual standing and through physical descent.

[22] The latter is presumably the same as the khatm al-awliyā’, though one could hypothesize that we have here a foreshadowing of the dichotomy of sealhood into ‘universal’ and ‘Muhammadan’ offices.

[23] The firzān (< Per., farzīn, ‘learned’) in the Near Eastern game of chess (shitranj) would more properly be called a ‘vizier’ than a ‘queen’.

[24] We may view the sultan as the animus, the energy of the self or ego, capable of being directed to the good by ‘intellect’ (the super-ego) or to evil by ‘passion’, the id (cf. John 12: 31-2). Thus, the ‘being/world of the sultan’ is the given situation, and Ibn al-‘Arabī’s taking full responsibility for it, while caring nothing for its conditions, amounts to a kind of Stoic existentialism.

[25] Here the Shaykh alludes to the truce of al-Hudaybīyah, the occasion of Q. 48:10, addressed to the Prophet: "Verily, those who pledge allegiance to you pledge to God. The hand of God is over their hands; so whoever breaks his oath, breaks it but to his own hurt."

[26] This is a well-known hadīth, found in many collections (for instance, see in al-Bukhārī’s Sahīh alone: Jum’ah, 11; Janā’iz, 32; Istiqrād, 20; Wasāyā, 9; Nikāh, 81 and 90; and Ahkām, 1).

[27] Nafs-ī, in the concrete sense of ‘my personal, vital spirit’ (rather than the corroborative, ‘myself, ‘my being’ or ‘my person’), since it is feminine. The poem is in the tetrametre of al-basīt.

[28] Cf. Q. 59: 7: "Whatever the Apostle gives you, take; and whatever he forbids to you, refrain from."

[29] Viz., the external, tangible world of nature. The fundamental principle of occultism: As is the seen, so the unseen (= "as above, so below," "on earth as it is in heaven").

[30] See Futūhāt, I, 3 (2). Actually, the words are attributed to the quasi-Divine Muhammadan Reality.

[31] Hud’hud amīn jā’a bi-naba’ yaqīn (see Q. 27: 20-2seq.). The hoopoe here connotes the ‘Anqā’ (gryphon-phoenix), or sīmurgh. This and the remaining translated chapters occur on pp. 15-19 of the 1954 edn. of the ‘Anqā’.

[32] In the Sīrat al-nabī of Ibn Hisham, the Angel Gabriel appears to Muhammad as "a man pure (of form), his two feet astride the horizon of heaven", whence he salutes the prophet-to-be (see A. Guillaume, trans., The Life of Muhammad [Oxford, 1955], p. 106).

[33] Cf. Q. 6: 76-8, upon which this imagery is based.

[34] That is, the time predetermined by God when the sun will rise from the west, signalling the beginning of the eschaton, cosmically or mystically.

[35] In the story of Abraham and the ‘twilight of the idols’ (Q. 6: 74- 83), when the sun set ("I love not things that set," v. 76) the prophet exclaimed: "O my people! Verily, I am [now] free from that which you associate [with God]" (v. 78).

[36] The state of fanā’ (mystical ‘annihilation’) is absolute for the temporal human qualities, but is mitigated by baqā’ (continuance of immortal abiding) in the walī‘s transcendent essence. ‘Friendship with God’ (walāyah) connotes His nearness, so that the Light does not set in reality though it appears to from the perspective of the conditioned viewer ("My God, why have You forsaken me?").

[37] Cf. Q. 24: 35.

[38] This refers to a revelation which took place in Fez in 594/1197-8, when, Ibn al-‘Arabī later wrote in Futūhāt, III, 514 (13-4), "God gave me the sign (‘alāmah) [of the Seal of sainthood]." Moreover, it could have to do with the certain Divine secret which Ibn al-‘Arabī imprudently divulged in Fez in that same year (see ibid., II, 348 [31-2seq.]). If so, the secret may have been the fact that he was himself the Muhammadan Seal. Otherwise, more specifically, the ‘alāmah is said to be an actual lump between the Seal’s shoulder-blades, similar to one found on the Prophet’s back – as well as Ibn al-‘Arabī’s, according to a verse in his Dīwan (Cairo, 1855), p. 323, v. 7.

[39] Mutlaqah (general) here means ‘generic, not connected with a particular religious community’. This line is somewhat problematic (for reasons we need not go into at this point), and it should be noted that there is some indication that it is a later interpolation (made by the author himself).

[40] Rahīq makhtūm mizāju-hu Tasnīm. Cf. Q. 83: 25-8, of which the heading is a paraphrase.

[41] That is to say, 595 AH, the Islamic lunar year which began in November, 1198, reckoning a ‘day (of the Lord)’ as one-thousand years (see Q. 22:47, et al.).

[42] That is, into the third month (Rabī’ I) of 595, which corresponded almost exactly with January of 1199. This date, then, is firmly attested as the terminus a quo for the composition of the ‘Anqā’.

[43] Yathrib, of course, is the pre-Islamic name of Medina, the ‘City of the Prophet’. The adjective alludes to Q. 33:13: "O people of Yathrib, there is no station [reading maqām ] for you, so return [to God]!" (cf. M. Chodkiewicz, Seal of the Saints [Cambridge, 1993], p. 72, n. 44). As for the significance of the word, ‘isābah (group, association), cognate with ta’assub, it may be relevant to point out that Ibn al-‘Arabī used to meet with a circle of fellow Sufis in Fez in 594/1198 for nightly practice of dhikr, and he even suggested that it was on account of the break-up of this group that he began shortly thereafter to disseminate his knowledge in books. However, the reference is more likely to the "station of the inexpressible" (maqāmu mā lā yuqālu) associated with Q. 33: 13 in another Maghribine work by Ibn al-‘Arabī, the prologue to the Mashāhid al-asrār, as Chodkiewicz pointed out.

[44] The implication is that the celestial wine, with ‘Logic absolute’, opens the eyes to the truth.

[45] Abu l-Fadl al-Maqaābirī, a 9th/15th-century Syrian commentator on the ‘Anqā’, specifies that this is "the particular, Muhammadan Seal, not the universal", and that it is meant to signify "the self/soul fortified by its imbibing of the pure, sealed wine" (Izhār al-makhtūm, in MS Vatican 293). But if so, we must assume that the mystic is beholding his own self in apotheosis.

[46] This epithet is usually translated ‘the veracious one’, although, when applied to Abu Bakr, it probably was primarily intensive of musaddiq: ‘one who accepts, or admits, the truth of what is said’, i.e., one who is supremely faithful. But in the present context we need to distinguish this term from the meaning of al-sādiq (the truthful) in the following clause. On the Judeo-Christian messianic connotations of the epithet, al-Fārūq, and its eventual application to ‘Umar, see S. Bashear, "The Title, ‘Fārūq’, and Its Association with ‘Umar I," Studia islamica, 72 (1990), pp. 47-70.

[47] The referent is not at all certain and may, rather, be the Prophet Muhammad. But this entire scene evidently represents the same visionary experience that is the basis of the famous passage from the exordium of the Futūhāt (I, 2-3), where the Siddīq appears on the right-hand of the transfigured Muhammad, the Faruq on his left, and the Seal (Jesus) in front, "recounting to him the story of the Female (hadīth al-unthā)". Most significantly, ‘Alīis then said to translate the Seal’s words into Arabic (from Hebrew-Aramaic) for the Prophet. Finally, note that one of the notable scions of ‘Alīand a progenitor of Sufism, the sixth imām, Ja’far, was called al-Sādiq.

[48] The "two seals" are the two modes of light, cosmic and mystical, personified in the universal Seal (Jesus) and the particular, Muhammadan Seal (Ibn al-‘Arabī) – both subsumed under the aegis of the Muhammadan Reality. Note that in the vision described in the Futūhāt, the one called ‘he of the two lights’ (dhu l-nūrayn) may be a conflation of Ibn al-‘Arabī himself ("covered in the robe of his modesty") and Jesus.

[49] This is part of a tradition recorded by Muslim (Libās, 127) and Abū Dā’ūd (Adab, 83).

[50] Al-baytīyah signifies descent from the house of the Prophet and ‘Alī-Fātimah, and so, presumably, refers to the Mahdīor, perhaps, ‘Alī.

[51] The relative merits of the classical and modern poets was a popular theme of scholarly debate in Arabic literature. Ibn al-Mu’tazz (quoted below), author of the Tabaqāt al-shu’arā’ al-muhdithīn, was himself an outstanding example of the ‘modern’ Arab poets.

[52] See the last paragraph of the last section translated, below. In Q. 3: 59, Jesus (in his second coming, the last saint) is likened to Adam (the first).

[53] Wa-kāna mā kāna mim-mā lastu adhkuru-hū / fa-zunna khayran wa-la tas’al ‘ani l-khabarī. This verse (in al-basīt) is from the Dīwan of ‘Abd Allāh b. al-Mu’tazz, who had the great distinction of reigning as caliph in ‘Abbasid Baghdad for one day (in 296/908) before being assassinated. Ibn al-‘Arabī would have known the verse from al-Ghazzālī’s Al-Munqidh min al-dalāl, where it is quoted, though he might have met with it also in the opening pages of the philosophical novel, Hayy Ibn Yaqzān, by his compatriot, Ibn Tufayl.

[54] Abu l-‘Abbas is one of the kunyahs bestowed by genealogists upon al-Khadir, the immortal, wandering super-walī. The Qur’ānic story of the encounter of al-Khadir and the prophet, Moses (Q. 18: 60-82) is the subtext of the section preceding this (concerning the man from Tabriz), and the passage is treated elsewhere in the ‘Anqā’, as well. Al-Maqaābirīsuggests that al-Khadir, "who is the leader of the saints (naqīb al-awliya’), is a personification of the knowledge of reality and the subtle secrets (‘ilm al-haqīqah wa-l-asrār al-raqīqah) at the completion of things," while his companion, Moses, stands for the proprietary knowledge of the law (‘ilm al-sharī’ah) in the present world.

[55] Or: ‘he who dares to raise his [own human] veil will see his [own Divine] secret.’ (Compare this with the hadīth, "He who knows himself knows his Lord".)

[56] He will reveal his doctrine of the Seal in the most veiled manner, relying upon the reader’s intuition to divine its real meaning.

[57] "Burdened my heart": shaqqa ‘an qalb-ī. Gabriel ‘forced’ the prophet-to-be to recite the Scripture (see Guillaume, trans., The Life of Muhammad, p. 106; cf. also the story of two angels splitting open [shaqqa] the young Muhammad’s heart to purify it, in ibid., p. 72).

[58] Irkhā’ al-sutūr ‘alá l-budūr. Presumably, the ‘unveilings of the full-moons’ symbolize the successive revelations of the draft-titles of the ‘Anqā’ recounted in this chapter.

[59] That is, Rabī’ I, which began on the first day of January, 1199.

[60] This signifies the ru’yā sālihah (veridical dream), or wahy al-mu’min, which according to tradition is 1/46th part of prophecy and is accessible to any believer. Cf. Q. 30:46: "And of His Signs (āyātu-hu) He sends the winds as heralds (al-riyāh mubashshirāt), that you may taste of His mercy." Cf. also al-Bukhārī, Ta’bīr al-ru’yā, 9 (et al.): "Nothing remains of prophecy after the mission of Muhammad except for the ‘herald winds’, spiritual intimations (al-mubashshirāt)." When asked what this signified, the Prophet answered: "The veridical dream (al-ru’yā l-sālihah)."

[61] K. al-Kashf wa-l-katm ff ma’rifat al-khalīfah wa-l-khatm. One com mentator identifies the khalīfah and the khatm as "the Mahdīand Jesus", but another possibility would be to understand these expressions as denoting the exoteric, or ‘political’, and the esoteric, or properly mystical, aspects of the complex Mahdī/Seal persona, corresponding to the modes of ‘unveiling’ (kashf) and ‘concealment’ (katm). In one sense, the first aspect can be taken to be embodied in Jesus as Mahdīand universal Seal, while the second is represented by Ibn al-‘Arabī himself as the special Muhammadan Seal and Muhyī l-dīn (Reviver of Islam).

[62] That is, Gabriel, the angel of revelation, but also, evidently, the "messenger of inspiration".

[63] K. Sidrat al-muntahá wa-sirr al-anbiyā’ fi ma’rifat al-khallfah wa-khatm al-awliyā’. Regarding the sidrat al-muntahá, see Q. 53: 13-18, where it is named as the locus of another of the Prophet’s visions of the Angel Gabriel (cf. w. 5-9).

[64] Cf. Q. 2: 258, recounting the theological argument between Abraham and a vainglorious king.

[65] During the regular Friday sermon (khutbah). Al-Maqaābirīinterprets "the preacher" to symbolize the heart’s moving the senses to remember God in dhikr.

[66] Jadhbah would ordinarily be taken to signify ‘attraction (of the servant) to (God by His grace)’, but here we evidently have the opposite sense of jadhb as ‘captivation, enticement’, away from nearness to God.

[67] The ‘impressions’, or simat (= ma’anin), planted by the angel of inspiration, naturally develop into the heart’s ‘motives’, or dawāin, which ultimately evoke the precisely suitable words (= ‘ibārāt). Thus, in a compelling manner Ibn al-‘Arabī conveys in this remarkably detailed and psychologically accurate account of the process of literary creation the notion of the essential autonomy of spiritual inspiration, or – it would be the same to say – of the existential freedom of the true servant of God.

[68] ‘Anqā’ mughrib fī ma’rifat khatm al-awliyā’ wa-l-shams al-maghrib. This, of course, is the current title of the book. AI-Maqaābirī explains that the work is so-titled "because the gryphon (‘Anqā’) is potentially existent but not existent, and no one has first-hand knowledge of it except for Solomon, the prophet of God… Since the gryphon, then, is so distinguished as to existence (‘azizat al- wujud), the book has been given this title by virtue of the recondite nature of its meanings and its symbols, and the author’s doctrine concerning the Seal of the saints and the Sun of the West."

[69] Wa-Nuktat sirr al-shafā fi l-qarn al-lāhiq bi-qarn al-Mustafá. I read shafan instead of shifā’, for the sake of the rhyme. The former occurs in the Qur’ān (3:103 and 9:109), but only with negative connotations (as the ‘brink [of the land of the dead]’ it is an appropriate designation for the extreme Maghrib). Here the purpose is perhaps to make an association between the expressions, sirr al-shafā and sidrat al-muntahá. Mustafá (for mustafá Llah, the ‘Chosen one of God’) is an epithet of the Prophet. The "secret of the boundary" (= the Seal/Mahdī) is said to be of "the century following" that of the Prophet in the sense that he is his tābi’ (follower) and the omega to his alpha.

[70] The ‘western sun’ symbolizes the triumphant light of realization/ understanding rising out of the unconscious, as well as the concrete and ideal content of that creative manifestation in the heart.

[71] Here we have our author’s most unequivocal statement of the essential interiority of the apocalyptic personae billed in the title of the present work. For Ibn al-‘Arabī, eschatology is, firstly, a radical component of mystical psychology.

[72] A commentator cites as proof of the author’s point the case of Uways al-Qaranī, a mystic who lived in Yemen at the time of the Prophet but never met him, yet who knew of his existence – as the Prophet did his, saying: "The breath of the Merciful (nafas al-Rahmān) comes to me from Yemen" (see Muslim, Fadā’il al-sahābah, 223-5, et al.). The idea is that even as space could not separate Uways and the Prophet, so time cannot alienate the latter-day saints.

[73] See the references to the Ihyā’ ‘ulūm al-dīn cited by Chodkiewicz in Seal of the Saints, p. 57, n. 25.

[74] For Chodkiewicz’s informative account of the Akbarian notion of the maqām al-qurbah, see the passages indexed in his Seal.

[75] Ibn Khaldun, for example, insisted that the post-classical Sufis were tainted by ‘Fātimid’ heresy, even singling out Ibn al-‘Arabī’s ‘Anqā’ mughrib as an instance of this (see F. Rosenthal, trans., The Muqaddimah [Princeton, 1967], vol. II, pp. 186-200, especially pp. 189seg.).

[76] Raf’u sitrin wa-mujahadatu bikrin. ‘Unpierced (virgin) pearl’ is one of the several meanings of bikr which resonates with the imagery of the present work. Another possibility would be ‘first-born’, in the sense of first ‘successor’, since the allusion is surely to Abu Bakr as the Prophet’s successor, the caliph par excellence. Mujāhadah : "holy struggle" (e.g., against bodily desires).

[77] This was Ibn al-‘Arabī’s personal name (‘alam) by which he was known amongst his family and closest friends.

[78] A commentator explains this as the ‘holding back’ (ta’khīr) of Jesus in heaven until the appointed time of his second coming.

[79] Amīr al-mu’minīn (commander of the faithful) is the official title of the caliph (= the Siddīq, as exemplified in Abu Bakr).

[80]I am not entirely certain what the offices of the wizārah and imārah are intended to signify here. As a lesser rank to the amīrate (= the ‘caliphate’ of the Siddīq, as in my translation; or else of the Seal?), the wazīrate could stand for the walāyah-rank of the Siddīq or the Mahdī, depending on whether the amīrate is taken to represent the khitāmīyah or the siddīqīyah.

[81] The caliphate of Abu Bakr was occupied by the wars of apostasy (hurūb al-riddah) fought against Arab tribes that attempted to secede from the Islamic confederation after the death of the Prophet (in 11-13/632-4). (I take this to be the exoteric referent of the phrase, mujāhadat bikr, in the heading.)

[82] Other possible translations of sarf here might be ‘evasive artifice, cunning’ (cf. Q. 25:19), ‘repentance’, and ‘supererogation’, etc. I have opted for the sense of the cognate verb in Q. 9:127: "God turns away (sarafa) their hearts, for they are a people who know not"; and 7:146: "I shall turn away from My Signs (ayat-ī) those who wrongfully magnify themselves in the earth, so that [even] if they see every Sign, they will not believe it, and if they see the way of righteousness, they will not adopt it; while when they see the way of error, they will take it as their way."

[83] This perhaps represents an argument pointing out that inasmuch as the Mahdī(the last caliph) has not yet been appointed (by the caliph preceding him?), the office, therefore, does not now exist, and is of no account. AI-Maqaābirī reads, quite plausibly, al-mustakhlaf (the one appointed as caliph), whom he identifies as Jesus (see next note).

[84] "That is, the prophet of God, Jesus, the ‘greater caliph’ (al- mustakhlaf al-akbar), for he exists in the world of Divine power and transcendence (‘ālam al-jabarūt wa-l-ghayb)," explains the commentator.

[85] The Messenger of inspiration apparently concludes his statement at this point, although it is possible that the remainder of the section also represents his discourse.

[86] Here we have Ibn al-‘Arabī’s first explicit ranking of the walāyah-grades with respect to each other.

[87] Q. 7:182 and 68: 44. AI-Maqaābirī adds a note of caution to this sanguine pronouncement, quoting Q. 6:121: "Indeed, the devils inspire their followers (awliyā’u-hum)…"

[88] ‘Atīq Allah (freed by God) is another epithet of Abu Bakr, who stands here for the Siddīq. Al-Maqaābirī glosses ‘atīq as the intellect (al-‘aql), in accordance with the tradition, "The first thing created by God was the intellect" (see Abu Da’ud, Sunnah, 16, et at.), for it ‘became precedent’ (‘atīq) in the sense of existential priority (sābiqīyat al-wujūd).

[89] The Seal, as the one who takes his light (al-akhidhu nūra-hu) from the lamp of prophecy, might well be assumed to rank below prophecy. This, however, is not the case, as the saints are themselves endowed with ‘general prophecy’ (nubūwah mutlaqah) in Ibn al-‘Arabī’s full-blown doctrine, and in the same clause we learn that the siddīq takes his light from the lamp of his own proper station. Mishkāh: properly, ‘a niche in the wall’ where a lamp gives off more light than elsewhere (d. the famous ‘Light-verse’, Q. 24: 35).

[90] AI-Maqaābirī glosses the "two congregations" (and the "two seals", below) as being of the "tangible and the heavenly worlds (‘ālam al-mulk wa-l-malakūt)". In the margin, however, another commentator has given the better interpretation: "This is indicative of Jesus (May the blessings and peace of God be upon him!), for he has two congregations – that is, one of his own people, the children of Israel [that is, the Christians], in respect to his own prophethood, and another with our Prophet Muhammad (May God bless and keep him) and his community" (cf. Futūhāt, II, 9 [9-10] and 49 [20-1]). The final Judgment is known as the ‘Day of Congregation’.

[91] Gabriel is the angel who will blow the trumpet heralding the beginning of the Resurrection.

[92] a. Q. 35:1.

[93] Gabriel is referred to as the ‘trustworthy spirit’ on the basis of Q. 81: 21. Here, however, the "most trustworthy of spirits" is apparently the Seal of the saints – that is, Jesus in his eschatological role as "the Son of Man coming in the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. 24: 30; cf. also 26: 64, and Rev. 1: 7). The verb is in the future tense.

[94] In Futūhāt, III, 261 (17), Ibn al-‘Arabī states that some angels have even more than six-hundred wings.

[95] Note the play on words between janāh (wing) and junāh (sin).

[96] Vocalized as khātīm to denote the Seal as agent as opposed to the instrument, which is conventionally spelled khātam. But following the precedent set by al-Hakīm al-Tirmidhī, Ibn al-‘Arabī generally employs the infinitive, khatm, to refer to the Seal.

[97] The left-hand imām is superior to the one on the right in most (but not all) comparable texts of Ibn al-‘Arabī (see, e.g., Mawāqī’ al-nujūm [Cairo, 1965], pp. 138-9).

[98] Al-Maqaābirī speculates: "These are the people of sainthood, for one of them has said: ‘Knowledge of the Divine law is safer, but knowledge of reality is more empowering (‘ilm al-sharī’ah aslam, wa-‘ilm al-haqīqah amkan).’ Perhaps the Master was alluding to this saying."

[99] "Namely, the religious-scholar (al-‘alīm) and the saint (al-walī)", according to al-Maqaābirī, who supposes that the two modes of knowledge are the sharī’ah and the haqīqah. Perhaps, rather, the "two names" are simply those of Jesus mentioned by Ibn al-‘Arabī later in the book: ‘Abd Allah and ‘Isá.

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